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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Sex-Change Society

Melanie Phillips' The Sex-Change Society and the Neutered Male published in 1999 is currently annoying me. It is interesting reading but her theme as might be assumed from the title is that men have become irrelevant in British society which has been re-made to suit women. Her viewpoint is extreme and at times she reminds me of an inept tree surgeon busily sawing off the branch on which she is sitting. Women should do what they're best at and stay at home bringing up children and doing the housework. I keep wanting to yell at her - does that include you?

She propagates the myth that feminism is a conspiracy to destroy the traditional family. She fails to mention that the nuclear family - non working mother, breadwinner father and 2.4 shiny faced children - has really only been in existence since the middle of the 20th century. Prior to that many people lived in an extended family with children, parents and grandparents frequently living in the same house. I would argue it wasn't feminism which destroyed the family but the State Pension which made it possible for people to retire from work and still have money to support themselves without having to live with their children.

In the extended family there was always someone at home for the children. Mother and father may well both have worked but there was no need for a babysitter or childminder as granny or grandpa were always at home when the kids returned from school. You only have to look an census records from 1841 onwards to see this time and time again. Even relatively low income families could often afford to have a maid to help with household chores as well. The nuclear family therefore is a relatively modern invention.

She argues that easy divorce has shattered the family structure to the detriment of men who can only find security and an identity in the traditional family where father's word is law. In fact the picture she paints of men is of a nation of wimps who only exist if they have a defined structure and defined roles to fulfil - and this was even before feminism. Men only exist in relation to women and if you change that relationship men can't cope. She seems to wilfully misunderstand feminism's view of the family and men. Except for the extreme feminists, most women are not anti men and anti family. Feminism was about giving women more choices but not about stopping them having traditional female roles if that's what they wanted.

On one hand she is arguing that feminism has destroyed men but she isn't really putting forward a good case for saving them anyway. Is it really feminism and easy divorce which has created all the single parent families? Or is it simply that attitudes have changed and illegitimacy and divorce are no longer social stigmas? Attitudes have changed radically and I saw a good example of that the other day. It was an article by a lady who had given up her illegitimate child for adoption because she was 18 at the time and unmarried. The comments were dreadful and many were along the lines of 'How dare you give your baby away? I could never do that'.

These comments fail to take into account the morals of the time and the lack of support for unmarried mothers in the 1950s and 1960s. No cheap childcare, no benefits and free council house. Bringing up the child yourself was not an option unless your mother was willing to look after the child while the girl went out to work.
This is an interesting book but very one-sided and I find I can only read a chapter at a time. I dislike the cover as well.

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